This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 31 October 2015.
Third week has been insanely good for student drama, and The Prophetess feels like a combination of the week’s biggest barnstormers. Between the heightened emotion and fearful history of Titus Andronicus and the iconic music and bravura style of Singin’ in the Rain lies this production, a classy little number for the Keble O’Reilly, from a company known for big ambitions and unusual scripts. A mixture of opera, musical, poetry and drama, the result is an immensely slick and self-assured production, and the ultimate complement one can pay it is that its problems arise from trying to do too much, not too little.
The plot involves a young professional named Delphne (introduced with a fantastic monologue, dripping with middle class ennui) who, sitting bored on the tube, pulls out a book. In doing so, she is transported to ancient Rome, into an epic tale of heroes, lovers, curses, prophecies, and indeed prophetesses. To go into further details would be to spoil, and anyway, this is not a production terribly long on plot, instead focusing on playful and inventive language interwoven with the music.
The music, by the way, is absolutely stunning. The orchestra (conducted impeccably by Matthew F. Reese) sits on stage, side by side with the actors, demonstrating the production’s commitment to both music and drama. The musicians are good enough that you forget you’re listening to a student team; the score doesn’t sound like it would be out of place at the Royal Albert Hall. The trouble is, the music has a nasty habit of drowning out the words. Several lines of dialogue get completely lost, and there are moments when the actors are clearly straining to be heard, to the point of needing microphones. On top of this, the singing itself is often a bit incoherent, and the lyrics’ habit of incessantly repeating certain phrases starts to grate after a while. Overall, there’s a sense that the music needs to be turned down a bit.
None of this, however, is the fault of the actors, who do a sterling job with difficult material. Jasmine White is excellent as Delphine, and she anchors the entire production. Grounded and human enough for the contemporary bits, and charismatic and daring enough to play the titular Prophetess, White is a wonder to behold, and her narration, while inconsistent, is always welcome. Raphaël Millière is imperious and yet understated as Emperor Charinus, and Danny Scarponi is tragic and expressive as Dioclesian. The rest of the cast are solid, and as an ensemble they are a joy to watch, but the production doesn’t give them much room to breathe individually.
Overall, The Prophetess feels cluttered, but deliberate. It juggles lots of different styles, modes and types of performance, and while these occasionally tread on each other’s toes, when they’re working together (and they are more often than not) it’s poetry in motion. You will not find another play like this anywhere else this term.